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6 Strategies to Succeed on the AP Chemistry Test |

6 Strategies to Succeed on the AP Chemistry Test

Chemistry is considered to be a difficult subject by many students. You choose to challenge yourself even more by taking it at the college-level in high school by registering for AP Chemistry. You want to set yourself apart from your fellow students. You’re already well-motivated to succeed, and you should keep that motivation going until the AP Chemistry test day. After all, the whole year’s work and dedication have to pay off. Want to know how to perform your best on the AP Chemistry exam? Read on for our top six success strategies:

1. Your preparation for AP Chemistry begins as soon as you start chemistry class in school.

You have surely received the advice not to procrastinate. Of course, you intend to get serious on reviewing a couple of months before the exam. You really should be preparing for the exam and committing as soon as you begin your first chemistry class. If you take it seriously and gain a good grasp of the subject matter, reviewing for the exam will be a breeze. Throughout the class, be motivated by your goals for understanding chemistry – acing the AP exam and earning college credits. Treat it as a long-term training leading to the ultimate Chemistry challenge!

It will greatly help you to do well in the exam if you get the most out of your AP Chemistry class. It is important that you do not let yourself fall behind! There are several key concepts that form a solid background to understanding most everything in chemistry. A good grasp of the main ideas leads to a better understanding of many other topics. Mastering the ion formulas and charges, for example, is a necessary skill, first for writing chemical formulas, and then later on for writing chemical and ionic equations. A solid background on moles is required for stoichiometry. A complete understanding of stoichiometry allows you to solve a lot of chemical calculations, and you should be able to do them forward and backward. Your knowledge of acids and bases and chemical equilibrium is combined in acid-base equilibria.  The connection between chemistry topics go on and on, so we can not stress this enough: you need to always be on track! If something is not completely clear, do not hesitate to ask your teacher questions.

Be attentive in class and take good notes. It is better to study in small chunks, setting aside at least an hour every day to make sure you understand the previous topics and read ahead on upcoming ones.  At the end of every topic, synthesize what you learned, and write recall items on flashcards. When you review for the exam, these will come in handy.

2. Gain perspective on how to prepare for the AP Chemistry exam by knowing how it is structured.

Make sure you are up-to-date with official information on AP Chemistry course and exam by checking the College Board’s website. The College Board is the non-profit organization that organizes and administers AP exams. There have been changes to the course effective Fall 2014 and to the exam starting in 2015. We recommend you check the official College Board’s AP Chemistry Course and Exam Description which contains a lot of useful information and tips.

It is important to be familiar with the logistics of the exam, so you know what to expect. The exam consists of two sections that equally contribute to your score and lasts for a total of 3 hours and 15 minutes.

The first section consists of 60 multiple-choice questions with four choices, to be completed in 90 minutes. Note that up to half of the items may be in sets of 3 to 5 questions related to a single stimulus. The second section consists of seven free-response questions to be completed in 105 minutes. There are three long part questions answerable in approximately 15-20 minutes each and four short part questions which take approximately 7-10 minutes each.

3. Review efficiently by knowing what topics are covered in the exam and focusing on them.

Again, your official resource material for AP Chemistry content is College Board’s AP Chemistry Course and Exam Description. The topics are listed in detail, but they are also summarized in AP Chemistry Concepts at a Glance on pages 88 -105. Take note that some topics have been removed in the current revision. There is greater emphasis on particulate (ionic, atomic, molecular) level understanding and on laboratory and experimental design and techniques.

4. Know how to use your calculator and how not to use your calculator.

You will be allowed to use a calculator for the free-response section only. You can use most types of scientific, programmable, and graphing calculators.

Stick to one calculator to use for classes, exams, and homework. Practice using it. Master its key layout and functions; you want to be able to press the appropriate buttons and in the correct order. Ensuring you’re comfortable with your calculator will save time and minimize errors during the exam.

Keep in mind that you are not allowed to use a calculator for the multiple-choice section. You also should know how to not to use it. Brush up on your arithmetic and basic math skills for numeric calculations. In some cases, the answer choices differ enough that you can figure out the answer by estimation.

Let’s say you need to calculate 0.45 divided by 0.25 in a free-response question. You could do a paper-and-pencil calculation, but just use your calculator to save time. If you encountered this math during the multiple choice section (no calculator allowed), you may want to use estimation strategies to save time.

If you try long division, for example, you will see that:

\dfrac{0.45}{0.25} =1.xx

If there is only one answer choice that begins with 1, it’s probably safe to choose that answer without calculating the decimal part of the answer. You could also notice that 0.45 is slightly less than twice of 0.25. This means that \dfrac{0.45}{0.25} will be slightly less than 2 and certainly greater than 1. This may narrow down your options to one answer.

You can also use strategies to do exact math more easily. 0.25 equals \dfrac{1}{4}, and dividing by \dfrac{1}{4} is the same as multiplying by 4 . For most people multiplying by 4:

0.45 \times 4 = 1.8

…or multiplying by 2 twice:

0.45 \times 4 = 0.45 \times 2 \times 2 = 0.90 \times 2 = 1.8

…is easier than dividing by 0.25:


The key takeaway is that there are many ways to quickly and accurately solve math problems. Practice ahead of time and learn which math strategies work best for you.

5. Understand the periodic table. Know what is on the equations and constants sheet. Study and memorize (if needed) what is not on it.

A Periodic Table of the Elements and an Equations and Constants reference sheet will be provided for use during the entire exam. We recommend you print out a copy from College Board’s AP Chemistry Course and Exam Description, pages 160-162. Make sure you get these official ones which were updated for Fall 2014 and not old versions floating around the internet. Although you are not allowed to bring your copy to the exam, you should get accustomed to using it as a reference.

It is crucial to understand everything you need about the periodic table because it is a core of chemistry knowledge.  The one provided in the AP Chemistry test contains just the basics – the symbols, atomic numbers and atomic masses.  Know what names the element symbols are for, what information the atomic numbers tell you, and what the to use the atomic masses for. The periodic table contains a wealth of additional information, such as the number of valence electrons, monatomic ion charges, the order of subshell energy levels, and electron configurations.  You can also use it to answer questions on periodic properties and to classify elements as metals, non-metals, or metalloids, and compounds as ionic or molecular.

Although an equations and constants reference sheet is provided, you should know how to use the equations on it. You need your algebra skills when you need to combine or rearrange equations. There are some equations you need to know that are not on it; you may want to list those on a separate sheet to review and memorize. Although you are mostly tested on your learning and reasoning skills, there are some facts you are expected to know that you may also want to list down. Some of them, such as polyatomic ion formulas, solubility rules, and strong acids and bases, have to be memorized.

6. Review and practice, and practice some more!

When you need to study materials already covered in your AP Chemistry class or want a headstart on those not yet covered, look into YouTube videos.  The great thing about these videos is you can access them when you want – pause if you need a break or repeat if it didn’t click the first time; try doing that with your teacher!  Many students highly recommend Khan Academy and Bozeman Science.

In your AP Chemistry class, the lecture examples, textbook questions, homework, and exams help improve your knowledge and sharpen your skills on specific topics. Use them for self-assessment so you can focus more effort on addressing your weaknesses.

It is also a good idea to practice using questions that are structured similarly to the AP Chemistry exam. The College Board provides some sample questions on pages 119-151 of College Board’s AP Chemistry Course and Exam Description. Although you may already have a textbook for the class, it is also a good idea to look into AP Chemistry review resources. These test preparation and practice question sites are made specifically considering the AP Chemistry exam content and format. There are several to choose from, but is one of the best for its consistent alignment to the current year’s exam and detailed explanations.

Practice exams mimic the actual exam, so you can experience the feel of the test before actually taking it. They help to minimize surprise, confusion, and anxiety on the day of the exam. They also serve as an exercise in thinking through the questions and applying your knowledge.

When you are working on a practice exam, replicate the exam conditions; set your timer, grab your periodic table and equation and constant reference, and use your calculator for the free-response practice test.

Whenever you make mistakes on exams, homework, or sample questions, make sure you note the topics.  If it was due to carelessness with reading the question, incorrect math, or faulty reasoning, take note and learn from the mistake. If the error resulted from a misconception, make sure you address it by brushing up on the topic and asking your teacher or tutor for clarification.

Are you ready for the AP Chemistry test?

Be prepared well enough, so you don’t panic during the exam. Avoid mental block, and take a deep breath. Focus on one question at a time, and remember that you want to answer that question. Calmly recall relevant chemistry information, and be logical as you figure out the correct choice or as you compose your response.

Follow these tips and ace AP Chemistry!

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